Oral Tracey | Creativity, oh creativity, where art thou?
While doing some preseason analysis for the upcoming English Premier League season with my co-host on the morning sports discussion show ‘Sports Explosion’ on Hitz 92 FM this past week, in looking at the chances for my EPL team Liverpool, I expressed the opinion that the most urgent need for Liverpool is a creative midfielder.
One who will offer the spontaneous skills needed to unlock organised and stingy defensive teams, a view that is obviously not shared by manager Jurgen Klopp, who apparently trusts his system of play as executed by his current band of hard workers over the potential volatility of more creativity.
I have long been a consistent and unofficial champion for the creative element in the game of football. I remember vividly former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho taking his then creative genius Eden Hazard to task for not doing enough defending for the team, a move which sparked the beginning of the end for the now unemployed Jose.
There have been several discussions and debates with numerous local football coaches and officials, at my prompting, about the undervaluing of creative players in Jamaican football. As far back as Jamaica’s historic Word Cup qualification for the World Cup Finals in 1998, there was a running conflict between ‘skill merchant’ and crowd favourite Walter ‘Blacka Pearl’ Boyd and the Brazilian coach Rene Simoes.
The generation following Boyd was coloured by the case of Jermaine ‘Maestro’ Hue, arguably the best passer and midfield visionary of this generation, who, despite his unique and exquisite game-changing qualities, was always on the fringes of the Jamaican national team.
The conversations on this issue with current Reggae Boyz head coach Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore have been countless. Tinged with the irony that Whitmore himself was one of the major creative forces in that 1998 team, ‘Tappa’ is yet to bite the bait, that it is the lack of creative players in the current team why the Boyz seem incapable of doing something as basic, as keep possession of the ball, and even more fundamentally, were struggling to create quality chances. Tappa’s consistent response was from the playbook – most of the local creative players that the Jamaican public is clamoring for are unfit, unprofessional, and lazy. They do not do enough off the ball, and often end up as liabilities rather than assets for the team.
The fact of the matter is that with creativity and adventure, comes a higher level of risk of turnovers and defensive lapses, and most coaches are under pressure to get results and keep their jobs, and thus prefer to go for the all-round utility player, who will work their socks off for the team without taking too many risks.
It is indeed a balancing act between attacking enterprise and conservative pragmatism. General conservatism seems to be winning out, which is effectively marginalising and destroying the players with a creative propensity. Getting lost in this approach is the simple but fundamental fact that a goal saved or denied, is no more valuable than a goal created or scored.
Ideally, every coach and every team would love to have the full package in creative players, who also put in the dirty work at both ends of the pitch.
The fact is, though, that very few individual players come in that total package.
The innate nature of creativity and flair leave these players vulnerable to mistakes. They have thus become a high-risk component and easy scapegoats, a reality that puts creative players under clear and present danger. Ironically and instructively, the man widely regarded as the best football coach in world football today, Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola, has built and continues to build his success with teams dominated by armies of creative and attacking players.